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Because as a Preposition

Neal Whitman of the Literal Minded blog noticed that kids are using because like a preposition in sentences such as I didn't finish my homework because Skyrim. Here's why.

By
Neal Whitman, read by Mignon Fogarty
October 18, 2013
Episode #387

Page 3 of 3

A blogger named David Weinberger made a similar observation in a post from January of this year. He used the example of “We invaded Iraq because freedom,” and observed that it “had a mocking edge, indicating that the explanation for an event was inadequate; people didn’t think past a blind, simplistic support for freedom.” And just last month, in a message posted to the online forum alt.usage.english, a poster named Richard Yates wrote: “The implication is that the ‘reasons’ that follow ‘because’ are simply rote talking points and catch phrases that do not actually support the premise.” You can almost imagine the speakers vaguely waving their hands and pausing for a half-second before they utter the noun after “because.”

An interesting side note is that there are even similar sentences, with and without “hey,” that use “but” instead of “because.” For example, “I disagree with him, but hey, freedom of speech.” I also watched a late 1990s episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which the character Willow shyly asks the character Oz if he’d like to make out with her. He admits that he’s thought about it, and that when he does, it’s like time stands still, like a freeze frame, while he imagines how it would be. Even so, he turns down her proposal. Hurt, Willow sputters, “But … freeze frame!” In the alt.usage.english thread that I quoted earlier, another poster named Mark Brader links to a poignant episode of Randall Munroe’s xkcd web comic, in which Randall is trying to enjoy every moment with his wife, who has been diagnosed with cancer. In one frame, they’re playing Scrabble, and he says, “‘Zarg’ isn’t a word.” She protests “But … caaaancer!” and he lets her take the points.

Now, back to “Because NOUN.” As for the transition from the sarcastic usage to the sarcasm-free usage by younger speakers, we know that irony goes right over kids’ heads. As they’re learning the language as toddlers, they hear “Because NOUN” and just put it in with all the other grammar they’re learning. That’s true for the kids who rated their favorite Pixar movies just this year, and today’s young adults who learned their English in 2000s. Consider the adult who responded to a post about “Because NOUN” on the blog All Things Linguistic by saying, “[A]bsolutely every example sentence above is acceptable to me.”

Of course, all this doesn’t mean that “Because NOUN” has become an accepted part of Standard English. In fact, one use of “Because NOUN” went viral and became an Internet joke, in large part because it’s not grammatical in Standard English. In January 2011, a Craigslist user selling a 1992 Mazda wrote that it was “[c]ompletely stripped inside because race car.” A writer on a car-devotee website quoted the ad, and within two months, “because race car” was an Internet meme, complete with a website devoted to “why” questions that all had the same answer: “because race car! Ironically, even though “because race car” spread because of its nonstandard grammar, its popularity probably assisted the spread of “Because NOUN.” 

In the future, “Because NOUN” might fade away like other language fads, but on the other hand, it might become at least as acceptable as, say, “graduated high school.” As David Weinberger wrote in his blog post, “I think there’s a good chance it will stick, because efficiency.” 

This podcast was written by Neal Whitman, who blogs about linguistics at literalminded.wordpress.com and is a regular columnist for the online resource Visual Thesaurus

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Dragon photo by Eric Kilby, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0

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